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'What are you buying?'

Published:Sunday | February 21, 2010 | 12:00 AM


By asking what is happening or what is on our minds, Facebook and Twitter have prodded people to broadcast just about anything, from what they ate for lunch to what movie they are going to see. Now a new site wants to unearth more - by asking people to automatically reveal things they buy.

Blippy, which is backed by a Twitter co-founder, asks people to share their spending habits. If you register a credit card with the site, every transaction bought on the card would be displayed to your friends on Blippy.

It might sound like ridiculous oversharing, but Blippy is serious. While there already are plenty of websites focused on what people are purchasing, the site's founders think it offers a new way to learn about deals and new products. And knowing your spending habits are being transmitted to a flock of friends might make you think twice before spending $500 on a pair of designer shoes. Charities could use Blippy to show the public that their donations are being used responsibly, too.

Co-founded by entrepreneur Philip Kaplan, the joker behind a profane website that mocked failed start-ups during the dot-com bust, Blippy encourages you to connect credit cards and accounts at e-commerce sites like eBay and Apple's iTunes Store to your profile on the site. Then, whenever you buy something in person or on the Web - a cup of coffee at Starbucks or, say, a pair of boots at
- the purchase is immediately posted for your friends to see and comment on. They would see something like "Joe1234 spent $2.98 at iTunes."

More details

Some purchases are more descriptive than others. If you buy an iPhone game Blippy can show its name, not just how much you paid. But - at least for now - if you spend $250 at a grocery store using a linked credit card, Blippy would just indicate the total amount rather than everything you put on the conveyor belt. Users can enter more details about their transactions on their own.

Blippy doesn't store its users' credit card numbers. Instead, you give the site the username and password that you use to access your credit card account online. Other sites, such as the popular personal finance site
, have a similar set-up.

For those wary of baring all, Blippy lets you hide individual purchases from your activity stream or make it so only approved friends can see your transactions.

The idea for the site emerged late last year when Ashvin Kumar and Chris Estreich, the site's other founders, started thinking about how people are comfortable sharing all sorts of information on social-networking sites, but not financial transactions. They decided to see what would happen if people could easily share that information with others.

At first, it was a tough sell. Kumar said the founders needed to convince a handful of friends to try an early version of the site. Even Kaplan admits that at first he shared only one credit card that he didn't use that much.

"There is a hump people need to get over, including me, before you feel comfortable sharing this information," he says.

Not for everyone

But since launching publicly in January, Blippy has got more than 13,000 consumers to do the same.

Chris Broyles, a Blippy user who works as a litigation consultant in Chicago, understands the site isn't for everyone - including his wife. Still, he sees it as a way to keep track of what he is spending while saving up to move his family of five to a new home.

Broyles shares two different credit cards and several online accounts on Blippy and says it has helped him cut down on non-essential purchases. He was recently tempted by a $300 Blu-ray disc player from Best Buy, but hesitated when he thought about how the information would be shared and where the money could go instead.

"I'm thinking that by being more outwardly exposed with what I'm purchasing, it's going to help," says Broyles, 37.

Blippy has also piqued the interest of investors, snagging about $1.7 million from Sequoia Capital and Charles River Ventures, where Kaplan had been the entrepreneur in residence. Twitter co-founder Evan Williams also has invested.

Kaplan thinks there are several ways Blippy could make money. Companies might pay to mine the posted data in order to get in touch with their best customers. Blippy also could link to products that users have bought online and get a fee when another Blippy user clicked through and purchased the same thing.

Kumar noted that people were initially wary of sharing such detailed information on sites such as Facebook, but now it is common.

"For people that already talk about what they buy on Twitter, this could be harnessing that kind of energy," said Amanda Lenhart, a senior researcher at the Pew Internet and American Life Project.